The Book of Solutions – Film Review

Filmmaking may be a collaborative process but for the auteur director, the aim is to have full creative control. When those flipping the bill for the production start calling the shots, a vision can become compromised. But in some cases, maybe the auteur director needs that oversight to reign them back in and keep things in check.

Director Marc Becker (Pierre Niney) is in a quagmire of his own making. The studio producing his latest film are mortified by his avant-garde approach and intend to take over postproduction. So, Marc enacts “Plan B” along with his editor Charlotte (Blanche Gardin) and production assistants Sylvia (Frankie Wallach) and Gabrielle (Camille Rutherford). They steal the hard drives with all recorded footage and flee to the country home of Marc‘s aunt Denise (François Lebrun) to complete the film. 

Fearing they make him sluggish and prone to manipulation, Marc decides to stop taking his antidepressants cold turkey. The resulting chemical imbalance leads Marc to act even more eccentric than usual. As his friends and family watch, a mental breakdown ensues. Marc struggles to reconcile his creativity, his responsibilities to his crew and his fear of watching this 4 hour abomination. Amongst these distractions he attempts to complete a self-help book he started years ago, ‘The Book of Solutions’.

In reality and suffering from creative struggles of his own, The Book of Solutions is the first feature from Oscar winning visionary filmmaker Michel Gondry in 8 years. A comedic satire of unchecked ego, the film tells of an autobiographical story inspired through Gondry‘s own eccentricities, particularly those experiences he had while making 2013’s ‘Mood Indigo’.

It cannot be overstated just how much of this film Gondry has drawn from his own life. Characters such as Denise are based on his real life aunt and the movie was filmed at her estate. Many of Marc‘s bizarre actions and ideas in directing really happened as well. The personal side of Marc‘s chemical imbalance and fear of watching his completed film reflect troubles that Gondry went through also. Even the idea of a book containing hints at how to solve life’s problems was something Gondry created due to his frustration making 2001’s ‘Human Nature’ (a personal favourite of mine).

This wouldn’t be the first movie by a filmmaker about their love of film or passion for the creative process but what makes this one so interesting is that it does not paint the protagonist (and as such, Gondry) in a positive light. Marc comes off as abusive, obnoxious and extremely narcissistic. Unfortunately, this can make him an extremely unlikeable character and hard to empathise with.

The film’s characters are all well-acted by the cast with highlights being Niney‘s believably neurotic Marc and Lebrun‘s adorable aunt Denise being the kind of person we all need in our lives. While they feel underwritten at times, they all bring laughs to the table. The Book of Solutions is a comedic absurdist experience, despite its true life inspirations, it succeeds.

Marc‘s unacceptable behaviour is clear to all but they mostly go along with him due to his supposed prestige as a filmmaker. However, I do wish more was done to make this clear. It makes sense why people would humour Gondry eccentricities being he directed 2004’s brilliant ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ among other masterpieces. But Marc‘s accomplishments are much more downplayed and one wonders how such a wild card got trusted with a multimillion dollar film in the first place.

There is a meta narrative at play, the pacing of which can make the story feel like a drag. Just like Marc in his creative endeavours, Gondry leapfrogs from one disconnected idea to another. Marc‘s sudden mayoral run, a former producer with a deadly vendetta, live-action stop motion animation which comes out of nowhere, and a love story which resolves the plot yet feels unearned (neither by Marc nor the film itself). It all has Gondry‘s signature feel to it but in the end it just isn’t enough.

As an autobiographical piece, The Book of Solutions is an interesting watch with its approach making it stand apart from other similar efforts. However, by that same reasoning, I’ve seen other films tackle the story of an auteur struggling with creativity in much more relatable ways. Although fascinating, The Book of Solutions is not Gondry’s finest work and is more a film that will be appreciated purely by fans of this unique director.

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